By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

“Actually, before I came here, one of the girls said, ‘Sister Norma, where are you going?’ And I said I had to go and do a presentation and she said, ‘Can I come?’ I said, ‘Not yet, baby, not yet. Maybe one day you will,’ ” said Sister Norma Nunez SOM during a May meeting of the Women in Spirit at the parish hall of St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge.

The narrative was more than just an exchange between Sister Norma and the teen girl. Those few words described the deep connection between Sister Norma and her young charges, adolescent girls who have been the victims of human trafficking who are now residents at Metanoia Manor, a safe house in theBaton Rouge area.

Sister Norma is one of four Hospitaller Sisters of Mercy who live at Metanoia Manor and provide 24/7 care for victims of human trafficking. She explained how members of her congregation ended up in Louisiana for this mission.

“Our congregation was founded in Rome in 1821,” she said. “We take care of the sick and the elderly and we have schools,” she said. “We take charge, whatever the need of our time, and rightly enough, at this time, we are taking care of the children and victims of human trafficking and that is the need of our time.”

Sister Norma then launched into the horrors of human trafficking, especially sex trafficking involving young girls, who are constantly abused, forced to work both day and night, and often sold to someone else for the same purpose, causing incredible psychological damage.

“God definitely wants us to be happy and enjoy life and recognize his infinite love and goodness through each one of us,” she said. “But, in human traffickers’ minds, it’s about taking advantage of someone’s innocence and weakness.

“As Pope Francis said, (human trafficking) is a crime against humanity, against human dignity. It splinters happiness, it splinters families, distorts global markets and undermines rule and law and it’s international criminal activity.”

Sister Norma then cited “devaluation of life, treating fellow human beings as a possession for pleasure or profit” with creating the “big business” of selling human beings.

“Human traffickers make $32 billion a year,” she said.

In 2014, Pope Francis called a conference on human trafficking at the Vatican, calling on “religious men and women to take care of the children.”

“ ‘Especially in the periphery,’ ” Sister Norma said, repeating the pope’s words. “ ‘Take care of the children; they are being abused; they are being misused.’ Ultimately, Metanoia Manor is a mission, a response to the call of God.”

And, the mission to get more people involved continues for Father Jeff Bayhi, pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Zachary and founder of Metanoia Manor. An international conference on human trafficking held in Zachary on May 7 brought together Gov. John Bel Edwards; Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), co-chair of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus; Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences; Father Bayhi and many government agencies involved in combating the crime.

“More often than not, success comes from the bottom up and not the top down,” said Father Bayhi. “And, we’re hoping we laid the groundwork for that. One of our real goals is to educate (religious leaders) about what’s going on and have them get on the pulpit and talk about the horrors of this new form of slavery. Then, very possibly, their people will step forward and we think that’s where our greatest success is going to be.”

For Sister Norma, the mission is more immediate in dealing with the aftermath of the victims.

“The survival efforts of these girls is so high, so extensive, so difficult,” she said. “One day we say, ‘We got this. We got this.’ But no, the next morning, it’s different. But when we sisters talk at night and we share, ‘Yes, we are doing something.’ Little steps. Little by little at a time because these girls are suffering from trauma; trauma regardless of where you come from, Russia, Nigeria or American girls.”

Metanoia, which means change of heart, has also changed Sister Norma in ways she never expected. Now on the job for two years, she says she has grown as a person and in her relationship with God. Faced with a problem, she said she’ll “go to the chapel and tell Jesus, ‘You have to teach me about what to do and what to say … Okay, I’ll wait.’ ”

Gathering at the end of the day with her sisters, she said they all begin to recognize the little miracles happening around them.

“There are many, many miracles happening everyday if you will just sit and ponder and think,” she said. “Really, Jesus is there because he walks in front of us. We are one with him.

“Being at Metanoia Manor and taking care of these children is very different from what I knew my mission before. It’s just like falling in love. It means when you fall in love with someone you do more. That’s what I do everyday for Metanoia, I do more because I’m loving the service. It’s not a job, it’s a service.

“If I can save one child at a time, and that someone can find God in her life and faith, Jesus is the one who is giving me the strength and he is the one who is guiding me every day.”

For more information on Mentanoia manor, visit